Director: Barry Levinson
Writer: Mitch Glazer
Starring: Bill Murray, Kate Hudson, Beejan Land, Zooey Deschanel, Danny McBride, Scott Caan, Leem Lubany, Arian Moayed, and Bruce Willis
If you take Bill Murray, add Kate Hudson, Zooey Deschanel, Danny McBride, and Bruce Willis, you’d think it was a winning combination. What could possibly go wrong? On paper it’s an almost perfect cast, but somehow Barry Levinson’s 2015 film, Rock the Kasbah, manages to mess it up. It’s a comedy that probably has a handful of decent laughs as it meanders towards it overly optimistic ending, where everything is saved by a song and a dance.
Music manager Richie Lanz (Bill Murray) hasn’t been successful for a long time. He’s very quick to tell you a story from the days of years past, but it’s been a long time since a new story was formed. After hearing that USO tours can make a lot of money, Richie takes one of his clients, Ronnie (Zooey Deschanel), to Afghanistan. The only problem is that Ronnie takes off before the first show, taking all of Richie’s money and his passport, leaving him stranded in Afghanistan and desperate for a way out.
The film is inspired by the true story of Setara Hussainzada, who was on the talent show Afghan Star and caused controversy for dancing and singing without her hijab. In Rock the Kasbah, Salima(Leem Lubany) takes the place of Setara, and is a replacement for Ronnie, who is looking for a new client. He discovers that she can really sing and then decides to take her to be on the talent show in order to win the prize money.
For a comedy, it really isn’t that funny. Bill Murray is normally great at playing eccentric and self-deprecating people, but there’s just nothing to Richie Lanz that’s funny. Yes, he’s an awful person who is way passed his prime and taking advantage of anyone possible, but the humour is so dry. Murray does the best he can with the weak script, but he just can’t save it. Not even Murray singing ‘Smoke on the Water’ can muster up a chuckle. The supporting characters are all fine, but there’s only a handful of jokes that work, and it’s hard to tell where else is supposed to be funny. It also doesn’t work as a drama, despite it’s serious subject matter.
The biggest crime is the ending. It makes out that Salima singing, and dancing unites the country, with everyone smiling together while watching her performance. It’s just not realistic in the slightest and the film really doesn’t pull it off. Especially after the events of the last year in Afghanistan, it’s made the film feel really dated and out of touch in less than a decade. It’s trying to present a hopeful and positive outlook on the world, but it just fails miserably.
The redeeming thing about the film is that it does lead you to find out more about the real story, which is always interesting. Save yourself the hundred or so minutes and read an article or two about Setara Hussainzada, it’s really a better use of time. Rock the Kasbah, is a surprising miss for Murray, who’s usually assures a great time.
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